Joy

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I got a weird and wonderful call this week.

The area code was 910.  I recognized it because it is the same as my parents’.  On my phone screen the word Fayetteville popped up. Most people would not get excited by that word.  My hometown does not have the most exciting nor stellar reputation.  But for me, when I imagine that city, I just get all warm and tingly inside.

The voicemail was jumbled and cut off a few seconds into the call.  But I could clearly make out the name, and I surely recognized the voice.

“Danny, this is Joy from Fayetteville.  I saw a picture of you on Facebook and…”

Joy!

Joy was the pianist and a youth leader at my church when I was growing up.  Although old to us at the time, she was probably early thirties, she was so stinkin’ cool.  She was one of few adults who let my friends and me call her by her first name:  Joy.  How fitting.  She brought a ton of it to me.

In many ways, I was an insecure teen, not quite sure what to think of myself or my place in the world.  I did not peak in high school – that is an understatement – I didn’t even slightly ascend.  But Joy and Doug and Kim and Mike and Mr. Lundy and Mrs. Byrd and Miss Patty hurled themselves into my life with the full intent of helping me to discover all that I had that was good.  I’m sure it was a chore – like finding a pineapple tree growing in the Alaskan Tundra.

It didn’t seem to bother them that I was imperfect.  Sometimes I cussed.  Once I led the brigade of boys on a youth retreat in a full on mooning convention.  We pulled our pants down every single time a girl in our group walked by and even mooned passersby from the church bus windows.  These adults showed me love and compassion and how to invest in the lives of those around you.

Because of my work at the YMCA, I often read articles on how to insure that children grow up with a strong self-esteem and the ability to be productive members of society.  Having adults outside of your family who care about you is a key factor in accomplishing those goals.

I am thankful for Joy and for my church that poured into me for so many years.  I am thankful for the adults who have done the same for my kids.

Now, it’s my turn.

 

Hands-on Giving

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I fully buy into Christmas being about giving.

As a kid, Christmas presents were a big, big deal.  My parents went over the top with Santa followed by gifts from them.  In addition, my brother and I were the only grandchildren on both sides of the family.  They ensured that any potential gaps in our want list were fully covered.

My parents also didn’t buy us anything the other 11 months of the year.  December not only brought in the toys we desired, but it also stocked us up on socks and underwear for the year, a leisure suit for church and shoes.

In November, we looked like we’d just stepped out of the play Oliver Twist.  Our pants too short, and we had holes in our drawers.    January 1, it appeared as if Daddy Warbucks was kin.  We were looking great again!

But now, I have the ability to buy what I need, when I need it.  I’m not rich, but if my tennis shoes are worn, I pretty much have the capacity to replace them winter, spring, summer or fall.  Thus, this time of year has shifted for me.  Unlike my youthful self I am appreciative, but unmotivated by what awaits me under the tree.  A coffee cup with my kid’s art on the side is more exciting to me than a Brooks Brothers’ suit.  It’s all about maturity and perspective.

I do, however, really, really want others to appreciate what I have chosen for them.  And it saddens me to think of those who aren’t able to celebrate the holiday with the same vigor as we do.

For years I have adopted a family from the YMCA’s Angel Tree.  Our organization works to help bring Christmas to thousands of underserved kids who participate in our programs.  With my busy work schedule and the play I’m in with the girls, I became overwhelmed this year.  I was stretched in so many directions.  Therefore, I made the choice to give money to my church for those in need rather than to take a name off the tree and go on a shopping spree for a specific child.

That decision hasn’t ruined the season for me, but I’ll have to say that I regret simply giving a check.  I truly miss the excitement of picking out cool stuff for someone specific.  Each year, the girls and I would get so excited about a cool pair of jeans and a hat for our unknown three-year-old boy.  Finding the Thomas the Train playset he requested filled my cup.  With no boys in my house, I was pumped to pick out little dude tennis shoes and boy toys.

I took the easy way out this year.  I checked the ”helping others’ box” on my Christmas list with absolutely no effort on my part.  And it is just not the same.

Certainly the money I give will be helpful, maybe more so.  But there is a difference in giving to fulfill a quota and being fully invested in the process.

I give checks to several nonprofits throughout the year understanding that they must have my support to do their work and don’t bat an eye.  But at Christmas, I feel compelled to do more.  I won’t make this choice next year.

More Parades

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Lisa’s sister, my niece, Michelle, Stephanie and me on parade day

You know what this world needs?  More parades!

For years Lisa and I took our girls down to her father’s office on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh for the annual Christmas Parade.  He would provide the essentials:  doughnuts, hot chocolate, coffee, a parking space and a bathroom.  Our kids would be PUMPED, ready to kick off the holiday season.

When the girls and I began participating in Ira David Wood’s A Christmas Carol play five years ago, our parade routine changed.  We were no longer spectators, we were full on participants.  We don our costumes and walk the two-mile route encouraging the onlookers to ignore Scrooge who is shouting through a bullhorn to the crowd:

“Go home!  Christmas has been cancelled this year.  We’re going to have two Halloweens instead!”

The adults laugh and often respond with “Humbug!”  Some of the kids get fairly angry at the notion emphatically communicating with a man who is rolling down the street in a robe with a Christmas ghost at his side.  “WE ARE NOT CANCELLING CHRISMAS MR. SCROOGE!”

Although this is my sixth year in the parade, I noticed something different this go round.  Perhaps it is the political climate that made me more in tune.

What I saw were people, lots of different people, sitting together, laughing together, smiling together.  A man twice my age with a different color of skin responded to my hat tip and “Merry Christmas” with a hat tip of his own.  A girl in a wheelchair had a smile on her face that showed every tooth in her head.  Kids from 2 to 14 held out their hands for a parade high-five.  Groups of unrelated people came together to yell, “Merry Christmas Mr. Scrooge!” in unison. There were carefree smiles for miles.

My heart aches when I watch the news.  I sometimes feel as if our problems are so deep seated that there is no way we can ever mend.  But last Saturday, I had hope.  I saw laughter, and joy, and happiness and unity, and it did my soul good.

My prayer for my family, my city, state and country is a perpetual parade.  May we all recognize our blessing this week and bestow grace upon each other.

Forgiveness

I grew up across the street from a kid who had a difficult life.  I think his parents, although loving, were pretty hard on him.  They were considerably older than most parents with kids our age.

He was always a bit overweight which was also a struggle.  He spent a great deal of time at our house.

We always enjoyed having him around along with the other 8 – 10 kids who spent the summer camped out in our garage.

Our neighbor went to prison 16 years ago for allegedly committing a serious crime.  I’ve written him through the years.  In September, he was released.  Seems like good news for him, huh?

I’m not so sure.

You see, when you do bad stuff, society doesn’t forgive easily.  In some cases, it is understandable.  We have to draw boundaries.  And yet, it is painful for folks to be isolated, regardless of the circumstances.

The cool thing about being a person of faith is that you can rest assured that whatever your offense, it’s OK.  There is no punishment, no prison time, no ostracization – it’s easy.

I, on the other hand, have a tougher time forgiving and moving on.  I still remember Eric Thompkins tripping me on the patio at school in the 9th grade in front of EVERYONE – totally humiliating!  God has forgiven him for that, me, no so much.

My former neighbor’s struggle with reentry to society has given me perspective on second chances.  When you see it up close, it makes you reexamine your own feelings on forgiveness.

Ninety-six Percent

I was at a concert last Friday night – it was an event for work.  I was excited when I ran into an old friend.  He knew Lisa.

I asked how he was doing.  He said, “96% great!  4% could be better.”  He teared up.  “Your experience taught me that can change at any given moment.”

I had some times where finding 4% good was a struggle.

My former boss gave me a journal the day after Lisa was diagnosed with cancer.  He told me to write down blessing that we found throughout the ordeal.  He had a son who had struggled with major health issues early in life.  He and his wife found value in listing the good things.

Lisa and I looked.  The good was very hard to see; in fact, I’m not sure there was any.

Now that I’m on the other side – much closer to a 96/4 good to bad ratio, you’d think I would spend my time focused on the 96%.  All too often, I zero in on the 4, looking for ways to get to 100.  The sad thing is that if I spend all my 96/4 time focused on the 4, I get no reprieve.  Surely I’ll have more times when the bad is the dominate percentage.  How awful to spend the really good times frustrated on the small things that aren’t going my way.

That 92.3 grade in English is not quite an A.  But it is damn near close!  Perhaps I shouldn’t remind my kid that she missed a 4.0 GPA by only .7 points.  She likely already knows.  Instead, we should have a party to celebrate that high B!

I have one zit.  But dag gone, the rest of my face looks pretty handsome if I do say so myself!

I don’t make as much money as that other dude at work (the one I clearly outperform), but I have a job I love, and I have plenty.

I want my kids to relish in the 96%.  I should too.  Life is so very good so much of the time.  To heck with the bad.  There isn’t really enough to waste time on.

The Dowry

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She’s the one in white!

Two weeks ago, DJ “came out” to society.  She was a North Carolina Debutante – WHOOP WHOOP!  And now, it is time for her to get married.  I mean, she IS 19, and she has officially been presented.  Time is a wastin’.

To my knowledge, she has not had one proposal since the Ball which was on September 9.  What the heck fellas?  Her date was worthless.  They’re “just friends,” and I don’t even think he wants to get married right now.  What’s up with that?

Get the lead out men!  We can’t wait forever!

To encourage some movement from the male species, I thought I’d list a few things that come with her.  Her dowry.

Of course, me, which I would think should be enough.  Who would not care for Danny Tanner in his aging days?  I’m like a barrel of monkeys.

In addition, I’d like to offer a few other items of enticement.  Spread the word readers!

  • An inordinate amount of plasticware. Every time I have a party, I buy a HUGE box of forks, spoons and knives.  I have a fear of running out of plastic eating utensils.  I don’t have the same number of each, but am particularly heavy on the spoons.
  • A full set of tan towels. OK, they’re old, from my college days, and won’t go but one shower without emitting a cooked in sour smell, but they are BROKEN IN and feel great on the bod.
  • A box of handwritten AP Biology notebooks…just in case there’s a future surgeon interested…
  • An octopus cake pan – not sure where it came from but I bet you’d struggle to find another one like it.
  • DJ’s car (and the insurance payment).
  • A slightly worn picnic table, an old lawn mower (I’m sure it would crank with a little TLC), and a weed eater with only one wire. I’m assuming you’d buy a house near me with a yard for my grandkids.
  • A large box of number 2 pencils (in various stages of sharpening).
  • Her college tuition bill.
  • And… a green frog butter holder (great for rubbing down a cob of corn).

In addition, if you decide to elope, I’ll toss in an additional $500.

All inquiries should be sent either to DJ directly or to my email (I’ll forward them):  therealfullhouse@gmail.com.

We’re ready to go (well, I’m ready and am sure I can persuade the eldest)!

Frippin’ Termites

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I was determined.  I knew it wasn’t my gift set, but what was I to do?

Over the past six months, my mailbox has slowly shown signs of its demise.  After work, I’d walk to the street and pull down its lip.  Day by day it became shakier; clearly rotten wood near the ground.

Each time I’d approach, I would cross my fingers.  Let her live one more day, I’d beg the mailbox god.  But one Friday afternoon, I pulled, and she fell – smack dab on Dellwood Drive.  My J Crew catalog and Ad Pack tarnished and wrinkled from their asphalt demise.  A pack of termites were feasting like a family reunion at Thanksgiving.  I considered what might be next.  Are they secretly consuming my house?

I questioned to no avail:  God, why did you make termites?   And taxes by the way?

I searched the internet for mailbox fixers.  There is no such thing.  This was a job I would do on my own.  How hard could it be?

I put on my work boots and set out for the Home Depot.  That place freaks me out.  I’m always afraid the high shelves are going to collapse on me.  I had a great-uncle who was wounded by a falling Depot item, and he was never the same.

I have no remembrance of how the last mailbox was installed.  I’m guessing my father, a man of many talents, was the culprit.  I’m sure I assisted by holding a nail and providing the lemonade as he dug the hole, but I’m certain I did not go it alone.

This time was different.  I am 50.  At some point, a man has to do what a man has to do.

I went to three neighbors searching for a post digger.  I called my best friend; he’s a tool guy.  Nada.  Who in the heck is planting our Raleigh mailboxes?  We all have one!  Someone has to have an appropriate weapon.

Finally, Charlie came home.  He lives next door, and although he didn’t have exactly what I needed, he did have a slender shovel that would certainly do the job.

I dug and I dug – far enough from the current post that the family of insects would have quite a journey to move their little get together.  And this time, concrete!  Ahh.  Try to eat that, and you’re little white winged ass is gonna end up at the insect dentist with a broken bicuspid.

When I tired from the hole, I erected my new post.  I went across the street to measure.  Robbie’s mailbox crossbar came up to my love handle.  Mine appeared to be slightly higher.  But again, I was tired of digging.

I removed the post and dumped in the bag of quick dry concrete.  As I poured the water and repositioned the post, it occurred to me that I might not have taken into account the fact that several inches of gray dust, and water, would lift the entire apparatus.

And now, my mailbox is nipple height.  It is the highest in the land.

Na nan a na boo boo, my box is the tallest…

And Michelle, my youngest daughter is happy.

“Dad, you can’t send me to get the mail anymore, ‘cause I can’t reach it.”

I should stick to desk work.

 

Musical Memories

Dixie Chicks (2)

Several months ago, DJ texted me to inform me that the Dixie Chicks were playing at Walnut Creek Amphitheater in Raleigh on the night that she and Stephanie would be returning home from overnight camp.  I don’t think she asked me to buy tickets; she told me.

I know a ton of their songs, but perhaps the most widely acclaimed, Wide Open Spaces, was released in 1998.  That was a year after DJ was born.  It was also around the time that we purchased a brand new forest green Honda Odyssey minivan with a CD player right in the dashboard.  We had hit the Big Time!

Our oldest child sucked her pacifier to the beat of Where’s Your Trouble and Cowboy Take Me Away.

In the 90’s, I was not a fan of country music.  I was more Earth, Wind and Fire than Miranda Lambert.  But my wife, she liked country, and she made sure that her daughters did too.

As songs were played last night, DJ and I had a ride down memory lane.

When the much slower song, Top of the World, came on, my oldest reminded me that I did not like the tune.  “Remember dad?  You would always fast forward this one.”

“It’s depressing.”

“But I loved it!  When mom was in the car, she would make you play it.”

“I don’t specifically recall.”

Toward the end of the song, there is a long pause.

“And every time we got to this part, you would press the skip button.”

“It’s a long pause, I’m sure I thought it was over.”

“And then I would cry and mom would make you rewind so I could hear the end, which is the best part of the song.”

“I still don’t love this song.  Makes me want to cry.”

When they played Stevie Nick’s Landslide, I was reminded how Lisa and I got into a feud about whether they were singing the word “older” or “bolder” at a certain point in the song.  I did not recall this dialogue either.

“Dad, it was a big deal.  You were both insistent that the other was wrong.”

Isn’t it interesting what kids watch and remember?

Of course, I was too cheap to purchase good seats for the concert so we were on the lawn in beach chairs.  But I was glad.  The view of the open sky was amazing that night, and there was one star that shone regardless of where the clouds moved.  I think I know why.

What’s My Role?

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I had the opportunity to chaperone our middle school youth group’s trip to Asheville, NC, this past week.  Asheville Youth Mission is a Christian organization that coordinates service opportunities for groups throughout the year in and around their mountain town.  We took 13 teenagers and experienced six mission placements in a week.

We worked at Manna Food Bank where Michelle, four other kids and I “got” to rip open hundreds of mesh bags full of rotten, slimy okra and toss them into a compost pile.  There was gagging and one episode of vomiting.  Not me or my child.  Michelle is used to disgusting food.  She was just thankful that she didn’t have to eat it for dinner this time.

We planned a pirate party at a day care center for adults with severe intellectual disabilities.  We shared some great jokes with our new friends:

What’s a pirate’s favorite country?

Arrrrgentina!

I left that afternoon both uplifted and incredibly grateful for my healthy children.

This was my second year at AYM, so I wasn’t surprised that I would be spiritually and emotionally moved at some point during the week.  I just didn’t know how.

Day 1 was the okra; not moving – emotionally or spiritually.  Perhaps gastronically, but that’s about all.

Day 2, however, hit me hard.

We pulled up to Hinds Feet Farm around noon.  It was not a corn field.  It was actually a safe place for people to go who suffer from traumatic or acquired brain injuries.   These adults come to Hinds Feet Farm, held in the back of a church, daily, where they build friendships and participate in programs.

I was fortunate to break bread with Sarah, Jay and Vanessa, three of about 15 present last Tuesday.  Jay immediately shared that Sarah was his wife; they both wore wedding bands.  Sarah clarified that their marriage was spiritual, that at this point they were unable to live together and had not yet had an official ceremony.

After lunch, several of our new friends shared their stories.  We learned that Sarah and Vanessa had been in car accidents.  Vanessa’s was three days after she turned 16.  Jay was hit in a brawl, fell backwards, and suffered significant bleeding on his brain.

Although their stories were inspiring, it was the lessons they shared that really hit home with me.

Each told us that they were intelligent; that they weren’t scary; that they just struggled with speech and with memory.  They asked us to treat them like real people.  Not to shy away from them.  Not to assume they aren’t smart.

As I listened to them, I thought about all that is going on in the world today.  Perhaps part of their struggles was my fault.

I don’t hang out with anyone who has a traumatic brain injury, so I simply don’t understand.  In fact, I don’t really hang out with Muslims, the homeless, those outside of my socioeconomic sphere, transgender folks, etc., etc.  Sure, I have acquaintances at work and throughout the community who are different from me, and, they are some of the nicest, most engaging people I know.  But I’m not eating dinner with them on Saturday night.  Instead, I spend my free time with my family (all lily white, middle class, southerners), and friends from church or clubs or my neighborhood (most lily white, middle class, southerners).  I’m guessing it is difficult to truly understand others if you don’t spend significant time with them.  In fact, Sarah said with slow, slurred speech, “You can’t understand if you don’t walk in someone else’s shoes.  And your feet are probably the wrong size.”  I think I should at least try them on.

At times, I get so frustrated with the unrest in our world.  Things seem so dire.  And yet, if I’m honest with myself, I can’t say that I’m doing anything to make it better.  Perhaps I should spend a bit more time pondering my role in all of this.  And maybe I should work a bit harder to connect with those who don’t look, act and think just like I do.

Secret Service Dad

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We bought our house in 1994, about 7 months after we got married.  It was built in 1955 and had, for the most part, been updated since.

After we moved in, my grandmother gave us $1,000 to help with home improvements.  My mom strongly suggested we immediately invest in a home alarm system, because she thinks that most criminals are aggressively targeting our family at all times.

I pondered my options – toilets that would flush or alarm; air conditioner that would pump out cool air or alarm.  Because of the intense crime rate in my neighborhood in the heart of North Carolina, I went with alarm.

I have been pleased with it over the past 20 years.  It does give me comfort, most of the time.

Last Wednesday night, it did not.  It went off at 3:23 AM and scared the &%$# out of me.

It blared for about 15 seconds, went off, and then blared again.  How odd.

I had forgotten how dark it is at 3:23 in the morning.  Like, imagine being blindfolded in the closet under your mother’s long dresses.  That’s how dark it is.

I lay in the bed for a minute or two listening for the guys who were about to murder me.  Sadly, I didn’t really think about Stephanie who was alone, upstairs, in her bedroom.

These were clearly quiet burglars, perhaps in socks.  I couldn’t hear a peep.

I remembered Lisa sharing stories of her father slowly climbing the stairs of their home when she was a kid about ready for bed.  She would call out, “Dad, I know you’re there!”  She said it felt like hours before he would jump into her room for a surprise tickle attack.  I waited with the same anticipation.

I finally mustered the courage to walk to the kitchen.  I looked around my room for weapons that could assist in my defense.  I had a lamp that could have acted as a tire iron for whooping up on the enemy, but damn, it was a lot of trouble to unplug.  The biggest book on my nightstand was Josephus Daniels, his Life & Times.  I’ve been trying to read the 600 pager for three months to no avail.  Perhaps this would make good use of my investment.  I had a hand bell that the kids used when they were young to get my attention when they were at home, sick in bed.  Perhaps I could stun his hearing, confusing him while I grabbed my child and ran out the front door.

Finally, I decided I’d rely on my massive strength.  I have been working out for years.  Although I’ve never punched anyone before, there was certainly pent up force in my massive arms.

I called the alarm company asking if they had received a signal.  They had not.  I asked the lady on the phone if she would come over and sleep with me.  That apparently is not included in my annual contract.

“How much would it cost to add that service,” I inquired.

“More than you can afford.”

She didn’t even sound attractive.  People are less fun in the middle of the night.

I considered taking a large butcher knife with serrated edges back to bed with me but decided the likelihood of me actually having the guts to stab someone, regardless of the situation, was less likely than me rolling over and accidentally cutting out my own spleen.

As I nestled back into my Serta, I remembered I had a child upstairs.  That was a long way from my bedroom, and I would have to go through several dark rooms to check on her.  Certainly she was alright.

My parental guilt sank in – I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep if I didn’t make sure she was OK.  I grabbed Josephus and put my bedroom shoes back on.

When I got to her room, she was sitting up in bed.  She had her phone in her hand and her covers pulled up to her chin.

As humans, we act as if a layer of cotton is a force field that can protect us from anything.

“Stephanie, did you hear the alarm?”

“Yes.  It woke me up.”

“What are you doing?”

“I’m checking Instagram.”

So, there is a mad killer potentially on the loose in our house, our alarm goes off, twice.  She hears me stirring in the kitchen and notices that lights are on.  And… she pulls up her covers and checks Instagram.  I guess it would be nice to know if you got 100 likes on the last picture you posted before you are bludgeoned to death.  OH.  More likes than Sarah Kate!  I’m ready to die.

“How is checking Insta helping in this situation?  I have 911 dialed on my phone and my finger poised over the call button.  What are you doing to support?“

“I just assumed you had things under control.”

It is scary to me that my children think I have it ALL taken care of.  They put a lot of confidence in this aging, 175-pound, powerhouse of a man.  I’m like the Daddy Secret Service.

If they only knew: I AM PETRIFIED, most of the time, on many, many levels.